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The Power of Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products. They can also be found in soil.

Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also be used as probiotics, as are some yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

It is estimated our bodies house an estimated 100 trillion “good” bacteria, many of which reside in our gut. These bacteria are essential for our survival. They play an enormous role in our overall health.

A review of the many documented health benefits include:

  • A review titled “Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review” concluded that common strains of probiotic bacteria found in some fermented foods “showed efficacy in improving psychiatric disorder-related behaviors including anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and memory abilities, including spatial and non-spatial memory.” They also concluded that certain probiotics could affect the gut brain interaction, from the vagus nerve, aka as the “traveling nerve”. This nerve originates at the brainstem and travels to almost every organ of your body. It is a part of the autonomic nervous system. Many of the strains of probiotic bacteria used in the research can be found in active culture yogurt and lacto fermented vegetables. There are probiotic supplements on the market, however the most concentrated form is in foods.
  • Improves glycemic control
  • Lowers inflammation
  • Improves immune function
  • Manufacture of vitamin K2- This vitamin, not to be confused with vitamin K1 which is responsible for blood to clot, k2 is a powerful transporter of calcium from the bloodstream and into the bones and teeth and prevents calcification of arteries and in kidneys. It is found most abundantly in natto, a fermented product. Other sources include cheese, beef liver, chicken, butter, sauerkraut.
  • Butyrate is a naturally occurring short chain fatty acid found in the lower intestine and is used by the lining of the intestine as an energy source. It is found in kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, breast milk, apple cider vinegar and resistant starches- cooked and cooled rice, potatoes, oats, etc. Butyrate also:
  1. Helps stabilize blood sugar levels
  2. Protects brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  3. Protects against cancer
  4. Can help prevent obesity
  • Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic found in supplement form and in fermented foods is commonly used in treatment of childhood rotaviral diarrhea and diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use. The brand Florastor is the most common probiotic used.
  • Kombucha, a fizzy drink made from tea, sugar and a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) provides B vitamins and acetic acid, which kills pathogenic bacteria.

A word about prebiotics

Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. While probiotics are live bacteria that provide health benefits, prebiotics act as food for probiotics and help them survive and thrive. Examples are fiber from fermented foods, whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, avocados and artichokes.

Foods highest in prebiotic fiber are chicory root, garlic and dandelion.

- Brooke Lounsbury

Medical Content Writer

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Add These Superfoods to Your Pantry

For thousands of years fermented foods have been consumed by nearly every culture in the world. These health promoting foods have historically been used to ward off disease and promote health. Before the advent of refrigeration vegetables were stored in root cellars, dehydrated, made into hard tack, canned  or fermented. Long winters deprived Northern climates of fresh vegetables and the abundant vitamins in them. In Northern European countries fermented fish and fish products were common and provided a way to preserve fish to help carry the population through to the next harvest. Fermented fish sauces are a staple in Korean and Asian cuisine. Barm, a byproduct of beer making is a yeast that has been historically used in the production of bread. This form of yeast dates to late 1500s and most possibly has its roots even further back in time. Eventually this type of yeast was formed into cakes that needed to be refrigerated and was sold commercially. When America entered World War II, Fleischmann Laboratories developed and manufactured Active Dry Yeast, specifically to ensure GIs could enjoy home-baked bread. Unlike their original compressed yeast cake, the new Fleischmann’s Yeast did not require refrigeration and was activated quickly with warm water. Another method of yeast bread baking is sourdough bread. This type of fermentation involves using water, flour, warmth and time to allow yeast to grow in the culture. Kvass a fermented drink originating either in Ukraine or Russia is made from rye bread ends and water and dates back as far as 996,and is mentioned in Vladimir the Greats baptism. Mesoamerican native cultures- Aztec, Toltecs, Incas and others enjoyed chocolate, which is made from fermented cacao beans and dates to over 4000 years ago. Tepache is a popular Mexican fizzy drink made from pineapples.

Other fermented foods include

  • Kombucha- a drink originating in China, dating as far back, perhaps even further back than 220bc
  • Natto- fermented soybean usually added to rice as a breakfast item dates back to the 11th century in Japan
  • Sauerkraut-Adopted by Germans; however the first sauerkraut was made with rice wine and cabbage in China over 2,000 years ago
  • Milk kefir- Kefir grains, which are used to activate fresh milk and start the fermentation process is believed to originate in China over 4,000 years ago
  • Other fermented products include cheeses, pickles, yogurt, cottage cheese, miso, cured meats, etc.

Types of fermentation

There are 3 types of fermentation

  1. Lactic acid or lacto fermentation

Lacto-Fermentation is arguably one of the most common types found in food. Lactic acid fermentation is responsible for the production of foods like sauerkraut, blue cheese, salami and other fermented meats.

  1. Ethanol and alcohol fermentation

When fermenting grain, the by product  is yeast Barm, which is used in bread baking. Examples of ethanol and alcohol fermentation are beer, mead, wine and cider.

  1. Acetic acid fermentation

Some varieties of grains and and sugars ferment to produce sour vinegar and sauces. Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, and kombucha are examples of acetic acid fermentation.

Health benefits of fermented foods

The foundation of lacto fermented foods is lactic acid bacteria (LAB), This beneficial bacterium, along with other microorganisms formed during fermentation have displayed some amazing health benefits:

  • Through chemical processes help lower blood pressure
  • Powerful antioxidant properties
  • Powerful antibacterial properties
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Increases vitamin content, especially B, K2 and C vitamins ( For example, fresh cabbage has about 30 mg vitamin C per cup, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) has between 600-700 mg per cup according to a Cornell University study)
  • Maintain a healthy gut microbiota
  • Anti-carcinogenic
  • Improve mental health- especially anxiety
  • Assists in neutralizing phytates, which in turn helps the body absorb nutrients

Next post we will delve into their specific health promoting qualities of fermented foods and how to make a simple sauerkraut. *Downloadable pdf of detailed instructions.

- Brooke Lounsbury

Medical Content Writer

Lifesaving Medications

Everyone should be empowered to care for themselves and their loved ones during the unexpected.

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Keeping you informed and safe.

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